When the Dust Settles: Removing Blight, But Spreading Toxins

Data regarding ongoing demolitions of blighted properties in cities across the U.S. has turned up some unexpected consequences: the spread of lead toxins into the surrounding community.

2 minute read

February 25, 2017, 9:00 AM PST

By jwilliams @jwillia22

Baltimore Demolition

danielle_blue / flickr

Eilís O’Neill of The Nationreports on the potentially devastating environmental consequences of blight removal. Older homes being demolished will often contain lead-based paint that when released into the atmosphere can be inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream of children nearby. Studies have shown the harmful impacts of elevated lead in the bloodstream of infants, including " learning disabilities, speech delays, hearing loss, lowered IQ, and increased hyperactivity and aggression."

In cities, such as Detroit, where removal of older homes is an ongoing process, children in the vicinity of the demolition are now showing elevated blood-lead levels.

...in 2016, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the city’s blood-lead levels spiked. While this unsettling uptick coincided with increased testing of vulnerable populations, some critics say the sharp increase can’t be attributable to testing alone, and that the city is removing lead with one hand while adding it back with another.

For these critics, the blame for the spike lies with a federally funded “blight removal” program that is perhaps the biggest housing-demolition program in history.

O'Neill reports that currently there are three demolition strategies in use: the dry method which is the quickest and easiest, but tends to kick up the most dust; the wet-wet protocol, which includes wetting the house during the demolition process to keep most of the dust contained to within 350 feet of the site; and the newer Baltimore protocol, which covers the house in plastic and keeps the house wet with multiple hoses throughout the demo process. The Baltimore protocol has been shown to limit dust exposure to approximately within 60 feet of the demo site.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 in The Nation

Red on white 'Room for Rent, Inquire Inside' sign

In Most U.S. Cities, Archaic Laws Limit Roommate Living

Critics argue laws preventing unrelated adults from living in the same home fail to understand the modern American household.

May 24, 2023 - The Atlantic

Vancouver Chuck Wolfe

Ten Signs of a Resurgent Downtown

In GeekWire, Chuck Wolfe continues his exploration of a holistic and practical approach to post-pandemic urban center recovery, anchored in local context and community-driven initiatives that promote livability, safety, and sustainability.

May 24, 2023 - GeekWire

Colorful high-saturation view of downtown Houston, Texas with pink and blue dusk sky

Transforming Downtowns Into Functional Neighborhoods

Rather than ‘monofunctional’ business districts or urban playgrounds, American downtown districts could become multipurpose neighborhoods.

May 25, 2023 - Wired

Blue and white Interstate 15 North sign against backdrop of blue sky and snow-capped mountains in Utah

Utah DOT Plans to Expand Interstate Despite Local Concerns

With more evidence pointing to the futility of expanding freeways, the state could take a creative approach to improving travel times and providing additional transportation options.

19 minutes ago - The Salt Lake Tribune

Close-up of lead water pipe with mineral crusts

An Equity Approach to Lead Pipe Replacement

A former Chicago health commissioner calls on governments to prioritize the most marginalized and historically disinvested communities when distributing funding to replace lead pipes, which have taken the highest toll on the health of disadvantaged c

2 hours ago - Governing

View of wetlands in South Carolina at sunrise or sunset

Supreme Court Limits Clean Water Act’s Power

A recent ruling ‘dramatically’ restricts the law’s reach when it comes to protecting wetlands.

3 hours ago - Politico

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.